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Maine Reaps Benefits of 50-Year-Old Water Resources Research Act

The Maine Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI), a program of the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, joins the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), stakeholders and academic partners in recognizing the importance of the pivotal Water Resources Research Act (WRRA) on it’s 50th anniversary.

Signed into law in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, WRRA established a research institute or WRRI in each state and Puerto Rico. In his official statement, President Johnson said the WRRA “will enlist the intellectual power of universities and research institutes in a nationwide effort to conserve and utilize our water resources for the common benefit. The new centers will be concerned with municipal and regional, as well as with national water problems. Their ready accessibility to state and local officials will permit each problem to be attacked on an individual basis, the only way in which the complex characteristics of each water deficiency can be resolved… The Congress has found that we have entered a period in which acute water shortages are hampering our industries, our agriculture, our recreation, and our individual health and happiness.”

Maine’s WRRI “provides leadership and support to help solve Maine’s water problems by supporting researchers and educating tomorrow’s water scientists. Our goal is to generate new knowledge that can help us maintain important water resources,” said John Peckenham, Director of the institute and Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Mitchell Center.

The Maine WRRI has supported the study of problems such as harmful algae blooms in Maine’s rivers and lakes, arsenic in drinking water, stormwater management, lake acidification and water pollution control techniques. The institute also sponsors the annual Maine Water Conference, bringing together people from across Maine who are connected with water resources to share experiences and make new alliances.

Mitchell Center scientists say WRRI grants have facilitated valuable research over the years.

“The grants help faculty and students conduct meaningful research that aids in the management of streams, rivers, and lakes in Maine,” said Sean Smith, Assistant Professor in the School of Earth and Climate Sciences. “It is difficult or impossible to manage and rehabilitate Maine’s freshwater resources effectively without knowledge of how the freshwater systems work and an understanding of how humans affect them. The WRRI grants provide a mechanism for advancing this knowledge and understanding in Maine.”

In 2014, the Maine WRRI is supporting research at Sebago Lake, the drinking water supply for the greater Portland metropolitan area. Led by Smith, the project seeks to quantify connections between geography, land cover, climate and hydraulic conditions within tributaries draining to the lake. The connections between these factors are at the heart of major pollution concerns throughout the Northeast. The research seeks to help guide land use planning, pollution management, aquatic habitat conservation, and public water supply protection.

Another WRRI project in Lake Auburn, a source of drinking water for the Lewiston/Auburn area, is focused on increased levels of phosphorus in the lake. This could compromise public health and eventually result in a water treatment filtration requirement that could result in a greater cost to the community. The work supplements the existing knowledge of the lake and its results will enhance lake and water supply management strategies. The research team is led by Aria Amirbahman, professor of civil and environmental engineering; Stephen Norton, Distinguished Maine Professor, professor emeritus, Climate Change Institute and School of Earth and Climate Sciences; Linda Bacon, Lakes Program, Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Contact: Tamara Field, 207.420.7755

UMaine Mentioned in Boston Globe Report on Newton Startup

Technology developed at the University of Maine was mentioned in a Boston Globe article about UltraCell Insulation, a Newton, Massachusetts startup that aims to recycle cardboard boxes into cellulose insulation for homes. The company’s technology was developed and tested at UMaine, where researchers came up with a process of separating contaminants from cardboard and adding a proprietary mix of borate chemicals to make the material fire retardant, the article states. The university owns the technology patent jointly with UltraCell.

WABI Covers Mitchell Institute Scholars Brunch at UMaine

WABI (Channel 5) reported on a brunch held at the University of Maine to honor more than 100 senior high school students from every Maine public school who were awarded a scholarship by Sen. George Mitchell. The program, which was started by Sen. Mitchell, aims to expand opportunities for students and help them succeed, according to the report. “He started this out of his own background where he understood how important it was to have somebody give you a scholarship, mentor you, support you and guide you through the four years of college,” said Meg Baxter, president of the Mitchell Institute.

WABI Reports on Weight-Loss Program for Kids at Rec Center

WABI (Channel 5) spoke with participants in the Way to Optimal Weight, or WOW, program offered to children through a partnership between the University of Maine and Eastern Maine Medical Center. The program is designed to get children and their parents involved in building a healthier and more active lifestyle by offering instructional components on eating right and physical activities at the New Balance Student Recreation Center. Miles Gagnon, a UMaine student and physical trainer who works with WOW participants, told WABI he has seen improvement and more confidence among the children.

Forest Bioproducts Research Institute Cited in Working Waterfront Article

The University of Maine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute (FBRI) was mentioned in a Working Waterfront article about wood chips that will be shipped from Eastport to Killybegs, Ireland. Phyto-Charter LLC will be in charge of exporting the wood chips after heat treating them as required by the European Union, the article states. The company will phytosanitize the chips on board the shipping vessel with a heat-treating system developed with FBRI. Phyto-Charter recently received certification for its system, the first such certification in the U.S. for the wood chip product, according to Chris Gardner, port director.

4-H Camp to Offer Leadership Training for High School Students, Sun Journal Reports

The Sun Journal reported the University of Maine 4-H Camp and Learning Center at Bryant Pond is teaming up with Mahoosuc Pathways, an organization that promotes outdoor adventure and connects communities in the Mahoosuc Mountain range of western Maine and northeastern New Hampshire, to offer leadership training for 10 high school students. A Mahoosuc Pathways employee told the Sun Journal the two organizations are paying students to get leadership training by helping build trails on local public conservation lands in August. The project, called the Oxford County Conservation Corps, began two years ago, after Mahoosuc Pathways began looking for a way to get students involved in building and maintaining local trails.

WABI Covers Vision Quest Program Offered at UMaine

WABI (Channel 5) reported on a five-week program sponsored by the Maine Department of Labor’s Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired and held at the University of Maine. Six students are taking part in the Vision Quest program on the Orono campus where they stay in dorms, attend class, eat in dining halls and participate in learning labs. The program aims to strengthen skills such as self-advocacy, test taking and time management, according to the report.

Press Herald Advances UMaine Extension’s Backyard Locavore Day

The Portland Press Herald previewed the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s sixth annual Backyard Locavore Day on Aug. 9. Several UMaine Extension experts will be on hand during self-guided tours of six backyards in Freeport and Brunswick. Visitors can learn do-it-yourself strategies for becoming a locavore, or a person who eats food locally grown and produced. Demonstrations and talk topics will include vegetable and square-foot gardening, backyard composting, greenhouses and beekeeping. Each garden session will feature food-preservation methods, including drying, hot water bath canning and making herbal vinegars and jam. Complimentary food samples will be provided.

Learn to Cook for Crowds

University of Maine Cooperative Extension will offer a Cooking for Crowds food safety training workshop in Augusta and Skowhegan twice during September.

The Augusta workshops will be offered 1–5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 11 and Tuesday, Sept. 23 on the third floor of the UMaine Extension Kennebec County office, 125 State St. The Skowhegan workshops will be held 1–5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 16 and Tuesday, Sept. 30 at the UMaine Extension Somerset County office, 7 County Drive (off Norridgewock Avenue), in Skowhegan.

Crystal Hamilton, nutrition and food systems professional, will instruct volunteer quantity cooks on methods for safely preparing, handling and serving food for large groups of people, including at soup kitchens, church functions, food pantries and community fundraisers. The workshop meets the Good Shepherd Food Bank food safety training requirements. Guideline topics include planning and purchasing, storing food supplies, preparing food, transporting, storing and serving cooked foods, and handling leftovers.

Cost is $15 per person; scholarships are available. Register online or call 207.622.7546 (for Augusta) or 207.474.9622 (for Skowhegan). For more information, or to request a disability accommodation, call Diana Hartley at 207.622.7546 or 800.287.1481 (in Maine) for the Augusta workshops, and Tammy Bodge-Terry at 207.474.9622 or 800.287.1495 (in Maine) for the Skowhegan course.

UMaine Researchers Studying Availability of Iron in Ocean, Primary Production

Understanding why phytoplankton — the base of the food web — are not able to use all the iron in seawater is the focus of a three-year study by University of Maine researchers.

Mark Wells, a marine science professor at UMaine, is leading the project that will look at how the chemistry of iron in seawater is controlled by tiny particles, where the particles are most important, and how the chemistry of the particles affects the ability of phytoplankton to grow on iron in seawater.

Oceans contribute about 50 percent of the world’s photosynthesis, with the majority coming from marine phytoplankton, Wells says. The growth of the single-celled organisms in many ocean regions is limited by the availability of micronutrient iron.

The researchers will meld chemistry, physics and biology to learn more about dissolved iron in the ocean that is tied up in colloidal particles, which are too small for gravity to control, and therefore don’t sink in seawater.

“The question is whether the marine colloids are releasing iron, or gathering it up, and this pattern almost certainly will change for different waters,” Wells says. “It is like a Tic Tac container. The Tic Tacs are there but you have to wait for the container to release them before you can eat them.”

Bioavailable iron is an essential nutrient for shaping the distribution and composition of marine phytoplankton production, as well as the magnitude of ocean carbon export, the researchers say. Iron exists in many phases in the ocean and colloidal, or nonsoluble, phases account for a significant portion of dissolved iron.

The colloidal phase of iron may serve as a biological source of stored iron, according to the researchers, but the physical and chemical characteristics of these phases are presently poorly understood.

“We know the particles are there, but we haven’t had the techniques to really see them in a technical way, and that’s what makes this project unique,” Wells says.

To better understand this key part of iron cycling, researchers will use new analytical chemistry methods to quantitatively separate the colloidal iron sizes present in a sample and measure the composition of the colloidal portions in shelf and oceanic waters.They will use flow field-flow fractionation (flow FFF) with multi-angle laser light scattering to make measurements of the uniformity or uniqueness of the colloidal size spectrum, as well as the physical and chemical characteristics of the phases. Flow FFF, according to Wells, uses flow in thin streams along a membrane to separate small particles by size.

“Researchers in the past have just used filters, but filters aren’t a very efficient way to separate size,” Wells says.

Using this method will allow the researchers to learn more about the shape, size range and chemical composition of the particles.

“A mixture of particle sizes go in one end of the channel but particles come out the other in order of their size. We can use the method to determine what particle sizes have the most iron in them,” Wells says.

The findings will aid future studies to better link the source and fate of iron in the marine environment, according to the researchers, who also expect the project will have broad implications in the fields of marine ecology and biogeochemistry and to modeling studies of ocean-atmospheric coupling and climate change.

“This study will help us understand where iron will be more available and less available in the oceans, which will help us understand why ocean productivity is lower in some areas than others,” Wells says.

The project, “Assessment of the colloidal iron size spectrum in coastal and oceanic waters” recently received a $269,334 grant from the National Science Foundation.

A former UMaine postdoctoral researcher, who is now a Texas A&M University professor, will serve as a principal investigator on the project that also will support the education and research training of one undergraduate student each year. The researchers plan to conduct outreach activities to K–12 students and teachers.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747


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